The right stuff

Regular exercise and physical activity have long been considered important for all age groups. But it’s only been in recent years that we’ve learned just how critical exercise and physical activity are for the older adult population as a way to prevent, delay, or even reverse the physical, mental, and emotional declines associated with aging.

Today, regular exercise is strongly recommended for older adults-especially activities that focus on building strength, endurance, balance, and flexibility-because of the long-term health benefits it provides. As a result, many LTC communities are moving to provide environments and create opportunities that encourage and motivate their residents-including those who are frail, deconditioned, or living with chronic conditions-to begin an exercise program and keep physically active.

Overwhelming variety

LTC professionals responsible for evaluating and purchasing exercise equipment for their communities may be surprised-even overwhelmed-at the variety of exercise equipment on the market. When you factor in other important considerations, such as anticipating future needs-both your residents’ and your communities’-the selection process can seem daunting. But it needn’t be if you ask the following questions beforehand and use the answers as your guide:

  • What are your residents’ abilities and needs?

  • How will the equipment benefit your residents?

  • How will the equipment benefit your community’s operations?

Most older adults are dealing with one or more chronic conditions with varying degrees of severity. Typically, these challenges are accompanied by an inactive, sedentary lifestyle, which contributes further to the older adults’ physical decline. Frequently, this physical decline is coupled with psychological issues, like depression over loss of independence, that further exacerbate the situation.

It’s no surprise then that many older adults are reluctant to exercise, even if they know they should. Furthermore, the idea of stepping into a wellness center and using exercise equipment can be intimidating-especially for those who rarely exercised in the past. To accommodate these wide-ranging needs and assuage these concerns, equipment must be safe, intuitive, versatile, comfortable, and accessible or it will sit unused in a corner.

The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) has developed a checklist to help seniors assess fitness facilities. When buying exercise equipment, the ICAA recommends looking for age-appropriate features such as:

  • easy-to-read display panels

  • simple instruction diagrams

  • slow starting speeds

  • low starting resistance with small weight increments

  • range-of-motion adjustments

  • wide, comfortable, and easily accessible seats

A diversified wellness center offers equipment that works on strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance, while allowing for users’ differing needs and fitness levels. Resistance training and regular aerobic exercise are both essential for improved health and function, and each has its own set of considerations:

Resistance training. Adding resistance training options in your facility can vastly improve your clients’ results. Benefits range from arthritis relief to improved balance, increased bone strength, and enhanced emotional well-being. Senior-friendly resistance training products use resistance from hydraulics, air, water, cables, springs, bands, or even the client’s own body weight to provide low-impact, joint-friendly resistance exercise that effectively builds muscle mass.

Steve Sarns

Aerobic exer-cise. Invest in equipment that offers low-impact exercise and begins at a low intensity and gradually builds up to improve cardiovascular fitness. Select treadmills, upright and recumbent bikes, ellipticals, recumbent cross trainers, and other equipment that allow for gradual improvement but are immediately familiar and easy to use. Also look for equipment that can monitor outcomes by providing information about heart rate, METS, or Watts.


Choosing the right equipment not only provides long-term benefits for your residents, it benefits your community as well. Investing in versatile, high-quality equipment ensures a good return on investment. To that end, review Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes to confirm that the equipment you’re considering qualifies for Medicare and other reimbursements and can accomplish CPT-intended goals.

There is much to consider when selecting equipment for your LTC community, but if you do your homework beforehand and keep your present residents’ needs foremost in your mind with an eye toward your future residents, your choices will serve them and your community for years to come.

Steve Sarns is an exercise physiologist and Vice President of Sales and Marketing for NuStep, Inc., a manufacturer of recumbent cross trainers based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He can be reached at (800) 322-2209, ext. 102 or e-mail

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Long-Term Living 2009 September;58(9):30-31

Topics: Articles